The Banality of Adjectives

22 Mar

Today I observed two interactions that disturbed me a lot. In one, a video of kids parading their Purim costumes  was shared with a colleague on whatsapp, to which she responded ‘incredible!’. In another, another Purim shot was shared, also on whatsapp with a family member of someone’s children dressed up in pretty ordinary looking costumes. The response was ‘fantastic!’.

These reactions were inappropriate, out of context and thoroughly exaggerated. So what, you say, why should I care? Well, if a plastic ninja outfit is ‘fantastic’, and teens dressed as butterflies are ‘incredible’, then what adjectives would you use to describe the warm orange glow of a sunset, the view while perched on a mountain in  the Himalayas, watching an egg hatch or a rare butterfly open its wings? Are these wonders of Creation simply ‘very fantastic’ or ‘extremely incredible’?

It might even be worse than that. It might be that language has ceased to serve its function. A person no longer has the lexicon by which to truly appreciate that which is appreciable.

You might say it’s me. So, what. Speech is free, it’s your problem.

Yes, I have a problem with inappropriate and banale adjectives. Is it simply because I love language and its precision? Partly yes but mostly not.

The ability to communicate ideas, stories, hopes and dreams is something that separates us from animals. Yes, animals communicate, but not in the way we do. Our distinctly human souls are embedded in the language we speak and I feel our language should express this.

Notice how I added the ‘I feel’. Perhaps that is the key to using and not abusing language, as I illustrated above. Rather than taking superlatives and sprinkling them at will, like chocolate chips and brown sugar, maybe we should start to personalize the way we perceive the world. Perhaps we should qualify our adjectives with ‘I feel’ or ‘This makes me think….’ or ‘In my opinion, this is….’ That actually might be quite interesting.

In the opinion of a  person, who doesn’t have experience to reference from, a bite of a fast food hamburger is ‘fantastic’. So he or she should state ‘This Mcd’s hamburger, in my opinion, tastes fantastic.’ That is OK by me. It’s your opinion and not mine. You’re not attempting to color the world with your superficial brush. You just wish to show me your interpretation of the world through your eyes. I can dig that.

How does this connect to Godliness. Well, God’s word is the word of silence. The highest ideal we can achieve  is  an intimate understanding of Him and His world, where no words, no adjectives or superlatives are necessary. When we stand at God’s feet and contemplate his glory, we cannot help but be filled with it…that feeling that no words can really justify….but where ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’ come to mind.

For God just ‘is’ and so too, is his  awesome and wonderful world. (And no adjectives are really necessary).


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